FCC Reporting Act Passes Out of Subcommittee, Again

With bipartisan dispatch (about 20 minutes gavel to gavel), the House Communications Subcommittee unanimously approved a discussion draft of a bill that would consolidate eight separate FCC reports to Congress, including the FCC's Sec. 706 report, into a single report on the state of the communications marketplace.

The bill reinforces that Sec. 706 is an explicit grant of broadband authority as signaled by a D.C. federal appeals court in the Verizon case, but Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), who co-authored a managers amendment to that effect, said that was not because he agreed with that decision, but because he wanted to separate the bill from the net neutrality-related debate over that authority.

House and Senate Republicans have a separate network neutrality bill that "clarifies" that Sec. 706 is not a broad, affirmative grant of authority, which will be the venue for that debate.

The FCC Consolidated Reporting Act of 2015 is essentially identical to one that passed twice out of the subcommittee and full committee last Congress and passed the house 415 to zip, but failed to pass in the Senate.

“We applaud the U.S. House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology approval of the FCC Consolidated Reporting Act of 2015," said the National Cable & Telecommunications Association. "By reducing the FCC’s reporting requirements and modernizing the agency, the Commission will be able to impose a smaller burden on a vibrant and competitive telecommunications marketplace that is focused on innovation, investment and job creation.”

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), chairman of the Subcommittee, used some of his opening statement to criticize FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler on his Title II approach to new network neutrality rules and to his decision not to release the language of the draft network neutrality rules to the public at the same time he circulates it to the other commissioners, which is expected to be Feb. 5. Walden, along with full committee chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Senate Commerce Committee chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) had asked Wheeler to publish his draft, just as they had released their draft of network neutrality legislation. But Wheeler said that would not be per FCC process, and to change the process it would take a process. 

Walden called the chairman's explanation for why he would not release it "old school regulatory mumbo-jumbo" and called Title II Wheeler's takeover of the Internet that he hoped could be avoided through bipartisan legislation. He said determining the network's future behind closed doors was no way to do the public's business, and an example how Washington was "broken."

Ranking member Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) said he liked what Wheeler was proposing, but also said it would be good to come up with bipartisan legislation.

The Consolidated Reporting Act was clearly bipartisan, with not a discouraging word uttered and the manager's amendment proposed by Scalise and ranking member Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) passing unanimously.

In addition to the language clarifying that the bill was not about Sec. 706 authority, the amendment made one other change: clarifying that the FCC still had the obligation —via the reauthorization of STELA in December— to report to Congress on the impact of retransmission consent on cable prices.

Walden also used the hearing to give a shout out to broadcasters for their part in helping make the AWS-3 auction a rousing success. In a bylined piece with FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, Walden had thanked various participants, but not broadcasters, who struck a voluntary agreement with DOD on moving off ENG spectrum to help clear the spectrum bands for auction. He recognized the commission, which he ascribed to both himself and Wheeler, and rectified it.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.